March 20, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy for the Ann Arbor City Council. It’s the day the council wished to give solace to landlords and tenants throughout the city – and quell the barrage of angry students and Michigan Student Assembly members – by passing an ingenious lease-signing ordinance. But City Council’s wishful thinking has translated only to frustrated landlords and angrier (not to mention more confused) students, which has effectively led to the collapse of lease-signing ethics throughout Ann Arbor. Essentially, the lease-signing ordinance has created a city of dishonestly and deception, making lease signing even more of a lawless game than it was last fall.
It was the hope of the City Council as well as the many Ann Arbor residents who backed the ordinance that last Friday would be the start of the citywide housing frenzy. For most student leases, Dec. 1 is the day when 90 days of the current lease period has expired. Clearly, they thought, these three months would give underclassmen adequate time to get their acts together, explore the city a bit and decide with whom they wanted to live. Upperclassman could use the 90-day grace period to decide if they wanted to stay in their homes for another year without having to worry about hoards of prospective tenants touring their residences with their landlords. Then, when December rolled around – the start of the term paper and final exam crunch, mind you – everyone could begin house shopping and find a house that meets their demands.
Well here we are, five days into December, and if you know anyone who hasn’t signed a lease and wants to live in a house or apartment larger than one bedroom, you might want to suggest he find a nice-sized box and alley to inhabit next school year. Thanks to landlord loopholes and clever (or realistic) students, a lot of the good housing filled up in October or November.
Among the strategies to circumvent the ordinance is a waiver landlords give to tenants (sometimes three or maybe six times) to indicate if they do not wish to renew their lease. If signed, it allows landlords to ignore the 90-day waiting period and lease their properties for the next year as soon as the tenants hand back the waiver.
Students employed their own way to skirt the ordinance – or at least those students who knew Dec. 1 would not be the beginning of the frenzy, but rather the end when they could finally put their name on the lease of the house they’d been scoping out for months. Many students knocked on doors and toured houses by themselves. After finding a good place to live, they contacted landlords to “reserve” a lease-signing appointment for Dec. 1.
Clearly, landlords and student tenants alike have discovered ways around the ordinance. Whether the City Council became aware of them or not, these methods will only continue in future years and become more lucrative if nothing is changed.
Closing the loopholes in the lease-signing ordinance would be a good start. But above and beyond those changes, a greater revision is needed in the Ann Arbor lease-signing system. It’s not simply that students need more than a 90-day period to decide where to live. Rather, it’s that the perennial housing problems around the city need real attention from the City Council. Lease inflation, seedy landlords, discrepancies around move-out and move-in dates and obscenely high fees for early move-in are only a few of the noticeable problems with the housing market that need to be addressed. If City Council really wishes to ameliorate some of the problems with the off-campus housing system and work for student interests, it should start by creating an ordinance that more adequately addresses the problems of the housing market and cut down on the nonsense students face from their landlords.
Looking at what happened this year with lease signing, it’s clear the ordinance is begging for revision. In the next semester, it is necessary for City Council to act in a more pro-student manner and communicate better with the MSA-City Council committee. By making changes to the lease system and voting on controversial ordinances while students are around to voice opinions instead of in the summer – which is its habit – City Council members can work on their relationship with students and effectively improve off-campus housing.
Theresa Kennelly is a LSA junior and a Daily associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.